Friday, October 23, 2009

How Far Will (and Should) the Government Go in Monitoring Online Activity?

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Vol. 9, #84 - Aug 18, 2009 - Issue #392



 How Far Will (and Should) the Government Go in Monitoring Online Activity?


  1. Editor's Corner
    • How Far Will (and Should) the Government Go in Monitoring Online Activity?
    • Follow-up: the best web mail service
    • Quotes of the Week

  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Microsoft won't drop support for IE 6
    • The return of HD DVD?
    • No XP Mode for many Sony VAIO laptops

  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to fix a problem where you can't see other computers on the network

  5. XP Security News
    • IE 8 wins the browser security smackdown
    • Apple patches more Safari security flaws

  6. XP Question Corner
    • Can I bypass the request for password when my computer wakes up?

  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Configure Device Manager to display detailed information
    • Set Automatic Updates to prompt you before downloading updates

  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

  9. Product of the Week
    • Driver Genius Professional 9.0






Kiss Your Antivirus Bloatware Goodbye

We asked users of antivirus products what they didn't like about their AV software. They told us they are resource hogs and slowed their computer down. They told us that scan times took way too long, and that the AV software nagged them. In short, old-style AV software takes too much Memory and CPU. Time to switch to VIPRE! It gives you malware protection that combines antivirus, antispyware, anti-rootkit and other technologies into a seamless, tightly-integrated product. Even if you run "free" antivirus software, it hijacks 20% of your PC, so it's really not free at all! Get VIPRE now and see how fast your PC can really be:
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 Editor's Corner

How Far Will (and Should) the Government Go in Monitoring Online Activity?

There have been a number of stories in the news lately which, when taken together, appear to indicate a trend that's troubling to many people. In the U.S., the current administration proposes to change a longstanding policy that prohibited the use of tracking cookies on government websites. Under the proposal, government agencies will be allowed to use single- and multi-session cookies to track users in order to "make government web sites more user friendly."
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Government-Cookies

Privacy advocates have a different take on the idea, and don't see it as friendly at all, but rather as a further intrusion of government into our online lives. Then there was the White House blog post that urges people who receive "scary" or "fishy" email messages opposing the healthcare bill to forward them to an email address at whitehouse.gov
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Health-Insurance-Reform

What will be done with those email messages? That's what privacy groups want to know. There is a federal statute that requires the White House to retain all communications it receives; on the other hand, there is also a privacy statute that prohibits the administration from collecting and storing data about political opponents.

These concerns are not partisan. This disturbing trend of government snooping into our online activities started long before the current administration took office. It began in earnest in the mid-1990s, under the auspices of protecting children from online predators - certainly an admirable objective. Then came laws designed to cut down on spam, and laws designed to stop software / music / movie piracy. After the terrorist attacks of 09/11/2001, monitoring of online activities (as well as non-Internet related activities such as checking out library books) ramped up considerably - again, in response to a very real threat and with the best of intentions. It's generally accepted knowledge that email is routinely monitored by the government, in an effort to detect planning of further attacks and prevent them from happening.

The problem is that once a trend like this gains momentum, it's hard to stop it. As long as it's ostensibly for a "good cause," there's no end to the level of government intrusion that can be justified. When George Orwell published the novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, it was regarded as science fiction, something that could never happen in a democratic country. Today, there are uncomfortable parallels between the novel and our way of life: cameras mounted on street corners and "eyes in the sky" watching us when we go out in public, twisting of language by politicians on both sides of the aisle to label things the opposite of what they really are, misuse of government's power, misuse of the media to spread disinformation.

At least we don't yet have cameras watching us in our own homes as they had in Orwell's fictional society. Or do we? The technology is certainly there, what with so many households having Internet connections and/or CATV connections. If you have a web cam with microphone on your computer, it could be turned on remotely to watch you while you're at the keyboard. With CATV now using two-way technologies, it wouldn't be that difficult for television makes to build a tiny camera into the set. They might not even make this public, as the automobile companies didn't go out of their ways to let consumers know about the "black box" data recorders in cars when they started including them.

Speaking of cars, many now have OnStar, which is a great service that has saved lives by providing instant communications in an emergency. But how hard would it be to use that same technology to listen in on every conversation you have when you're in the vehicle, either with passengers or on your cell phone? After all, airlines have voice recorders in the cockpit, so it could be sold to the public as an accident investigation aid, to help determine what was going on prior to a crash. Is it a giant leap to consider that it could also be used to detect when drivers are doing something against the law, such as talking on that cell phone or drinking a beer? We already have citations issued for running red lights on the basis of a camera's "testimony." And it's for a good cause - to make the streets safer for us all. Never mind that it would also be an ideal way for the government to snoop on your conversations and take note of those who are opposed to government policies.

Cell phones are almost ubiquitous now. There's been talking of making your cell phone number a de facto national ID number and many organizations now look you up in their databases by phone number rather than name. It makes sense, because there could be hundreds or thousands of people with the same name, but your phone number is unique to you, at least at a given time. When land lines were the norm, whole families shared a number but today, in many families, each member has a cell phone and individual number.

A relatively new and popular feature in cell phones is GPS navigation. But even if your phone isn't fancy enough to have that, it probably has GPS technology that allows the phone to be tracked. Once again, it's for the best of causes; it allows you to be located if you're kidnapped or on the side of the road, bleeding, after a car wreck, or otherwise in trouble. It allows your phone to be located if you lose it. But it could also be used to keep track of where you go as you go about your business every day. And it's also possible for its microphone to be remotely activated so someone on the other end can listen to you and what's going on around you when you aren't even on the phone. Of course, there are cameras built into most phones now, too ... you can see where this is going.

I've written about this topic before, and each time I get some mail from readers who call me "paranoid" and think I'm advocating a return to life without all the great technology that makes this possible. I don't blame the technology - governments have been oppressing citizens since the beginning. They don't have to have the Internet and cell phones and electronic gadgets to do it; those things just make it a little easier. As for paranoia, maybe it's because I worked in government, in law enforcement, that I worry about this. I know from experience that there will be some who will disregard the rules, who believe the end justifies the means, and who would like nothing less than total control.

But tell me what you think. Are things getting worse, or is that just a bunch of political propaganda from those who lost the last election? Is increasing government control inevitable, regardless of who's in charge? Does it even matter ("if you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to fear")? Do you ever worry about your cool technological gadgets being used to spy on you? Are you worried enough to give them up, or to take steps to ameliorate the risk (such as taking the battery out of your phone when you aren't using it - assuming you have a phone with a removable battery - or unplugging your webcam from the USB port when it's not in use)? We invite you to discuss this topic on our forums at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Forum-Discussion


Follow-up: the best web mail service

As expected, last week's editorial regarding my experiences with the top three web mail services - Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo - drew many comments from readers who defended their own favorites.

Although my article ended with "It's really just a matter of personal preference. All three services work," some readers aren't as tolerant. TexasToast wrote, "I honestly can't stand to read a review that is written by someone who isn't able or willing to try something new and who penalizes something just because it doesn't work the way you're used to. These are the people who won't upgrade past Office 2003 because they 'hate the ribbon' even though those who actually give it a chance end up thinking it's the best thing since sliced peanut butter." How funny, considering that I've been one of the biggest advocates of the Office Ribbon interface and am currently using Office 2010 and loving it. Looks like maybe I'm not the only one who has "prejudices and expectations."

Then Pixelstuff said, "I will say however, that the author forgot to mention (even though bragging about the feature in Outlook) that Yahoo has both folders and labels (or tags). Then second, Gmail has drag and drop abilities making it very similar to the way folders function. Since both of those features were implied to be missing and therefore short comings I'm wondering how long ago the big three providers were tested for this article."

Well, as I said in the first paragraph of the article: "Meanwhile, this past week I spent some time with the three most popular webmail services." And in the ninth paragraph of the article, I said, "You can drag and drop messages onto the label ...". Do these folks just not read or what?

I have no emotional or monetary investment in any of the web mail services. I think you should use the one that works best for you. While I expressed my personal dislike of the Gmail interface, nowhere did I say or imply that those who prefer it are stupid, backward, etc. so I really don't understand exactly why (some) members of the Gmail crowd are making it into a partisan issue. Based on some other readers' comments, I'm obviously not the only person in the world who just doesn't like the way Gmail works.

As for those who brought up security issues related to preview panes, those are legitimate concerns. However, as long as you don't single click a message that's from someone you don't know and trust, it's not a problem. There's no more reason to single click on a suspicious message and preview it than there is to double click it and open it. In addition, if your mail client has a setting to render in plain text only, previewing or opening most any message is safe. The preview pane simply makes it easier and more convenient to read those messages you choose to read, without the extra steps.

One good thing about controversy is that it results in a lot of lively discussion, and we got a ton of forum comments on this one. I love reasoned debate and enjoy reading why people have different opinions. I just wish everyone would stick to the subject at hand rather than bashing other people for their opinions. And if wishes were horses ... . :)

Thanks to all of you who participated in the discussions of this topic.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor
feedback@wxpnews.com

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-VistaNews

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-WServerNews
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Quotes of the Week

Perhaps in time the so-called Dark Ages will be thought of as including our own. - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742 - 1799)

Sometimes the appropriate response to reality is to go insane. - Philip K. Dick (1928 - 1982)

You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing. - Michael Pritchard






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 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without

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Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.
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Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!
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Unclog Vista! Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance. Easy to use:
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 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Microsoft won't drop support for IE 6

Many Windows XP users are also still using Internet Explorer 6, which came with the OS, even though two subsequent versions have been released. IE 7 suffered from some stability problems that were never fully resolved, and although IE 8 fixed most of those and added some compelling new features, some folks are just happy with what they've got and don't want to change. Microsoft reassured those people recently in a post in the IEBlog that said, in part, "Dropping support for IE6 is not an option because we are committed to supporting the IE included with Windows for the lifespan of the product." Read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-IE6-Support


The return of HD DVD?

Well, sort of. It seems Toshiba has licensed the technology in China and the players are outselling Blu-ray by a 3 to 1 margin. And why not? The discs cost a fourth as much BRDs. I leaned toward HD DVD in the high def format wars, and my side lost (or so I thought). We have Blu-ray players now, but we buy very few Blu-ray movies. The Sony player also upconverts regular DVDs very nicely and for all but the most "special" movies, that quality is more than good enough. If I could get HD movies for the same price as DVDs, though, I'd certainly buy them. Will the new CBHD (China Blue High Def) format spread around the world? We can only hope. Read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-HD-DVD


No XP Mode for many Sony VAIO laptops

If you're considering moving from XP to Windows 7 but you have applications that need to run in XP, the free "XP Mode" virtual machine that's available to Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate users makes it possible. But there's a catch. Even if you have the right OS edition, not all computers will run Windows Virtual PC, which is the basis for XP Mode. The processor has to have Intel VT or AMD-V hardware virtualization, and the computer maker has to provide a way to turn it on in the BIOS. Many Sony laptop owners are unhappy to learn that their machines have VT disabled, with no way to enable it. Sony reps say it's about security. Read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Win7-Sony-Laptops





 How To: Using XP Features

How to fix a problem where you can't see other computers on the network

If your XP computer can't view other computers in your workgroup, but you can ping other computers and they can ping you, you may be able to fix the problem by editing the registry. As always, be sure to back up the registry before you make changes to it. Then follow these steps:

  1. Click Start | Run
  2. In the Run box, type regedit to start the registry editor
  3. Navigate to the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \ System \ CurrentControlSet \ Services \ NetBt \ Parameters
  4. In the right details pane, find the values named NodeType and DhcpNodeType and delete them
  5. Close the registry editor and restart the computer.




 XP Security News

IE 8 wins the browser security smackdown

It's bound to make a lot of Microsoft bashers unhappy, but recent testing by an independent security company shows IE8 to be better than Firefox, Safari, Opera or Chrome when it comes to blocking phishing sites. Safari ended up at the bottom of the list. You can read more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Browser-Security


Apple patches more Safari security flaws

If you do happen to use the Safari browser, be sure you've got the latest update from Apple, which patches six critical security vulnerabilities, including a buffer overflow vulnerability and three problems in the browser's Webkit engine. Find out more here:
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Safari-Flaws





 XP Question Corner

Can I bypass the request for password when my computer wakes up?

QUESTION:
I have a Windows XP computer and I have it set up to go to Standby when I'm not using it, to save on the power bills. But when I wake it up, I have to put in my password. I'm the only one in the house so there's not a problem where anybody else would be looking at it without my permission. Is there a way I can turn this off? Thanks. - Jill P.

ANSWER:
If you're in a work environment or share a home with others who shouldn't have access to your desktop, the password protection feature is useful. But if you don't need it, it can be annoying. Here's how to change the setting so you won't be prompted for a password when the computer resumes from standby:

  1. Click Start | Run
  2. In the Run box, type powercfg.cpl or open the Control Panel Power Management applet
  3. Click the Advanced tab
  4. Clear the checkbox that says "Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby."
  5. Click OK.




 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Configure Device Manager to display detailed information

The Device Manager is often used to troubleshoot problems you might be having with peripherals or components such as your sound or video card, network adapter, etc. Sometimes you might wish to see more details than you get in the default view. Well, there is a way to configure Device Manager to tell you more by using a command line utility. Find out how to do it in KB article 304514 at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Device-Manager


Set Automatic Updates to prompt you before downloading updates

You know you should keep your XP computer updated with critical security patches and other updates, but you may not want to download updates you don't need or intend to install, especially if you're on a low bandwidth connection. In that case, you can set up Auto Updates to prompt you before downloading available updates. You'll be able to select the ones you want to download from a list. Find out how to change this setting in KB article 283629 at
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Automatic-Updates





 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.





 Product of the Week

Driver Genius Professional 9.0

Are your Outdated Drivers Slowing Down your PC? Find out with our Free PC Driver Check!

Keeping your Drivers up to date is an essential step to keep your PC running smoothly. When drivers get out of date, your PC can become unstable and you may experience frequent crashes, frozen applications and slow boot up times. Driver Genius Professional takes the hassle out of managing your drivers and will automatically backup, update and restore all your PC drivers. Over 80,000 devices. Start Your Free Driver Scan now and find out how if you have outdated drivers that may be causing you problems with your computer!
http://www.wxpnews.com/3UDXV2/090818-Driver-Genius




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